Wanted: A Strategy for the Indo-Pacific Region

August 7, 2018 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: Indo-PacificAsiaStrategyDiplomacySingapore

Wanted: A Strategy for the Indo-Pacific Region

Indo-Pacific leaders fear that the United States is not wholly committed to a role in the region.

The FOIP is important in this regard due to its conscious attempt to define shared values as the foundation for closer cooperation regionally, not just with treaty allies or traditional partners. The United States and regional states should find many narrow interests they agree upon and build coalitions, not by taking sides, but taking interest—specifically their common interests in security, stability, and the freedom to pursue individual prosperity.

A Whole-of-Region Approach

The issues around which interest-based multilateral coalitions can be built span the components of national power, but they need not be comprehensive in execution. Each individual CCI can span two countries or the entire region in participation. A natural starting point is law enforcement, not writ large, but focused on individual issues. In fact, law enforcement is an area where significant cooperation already occurs. Instead of replicating forums or information-sharing mechanisms that already exist, CCIs should focus on the actions to protect interests so that partners have a direct stake in maintaining an Indo-Pacific region that is free and open.

Counter-trafficking in persons (CTIP) is one area in which a great deal of cooperation already occurs, especially in the education, information sharing, and recovery fields. Forming a CCI is a natural extension of this cooperation. The implementation of a CTIP CCI could take the form of patrols with multinational crews of rotating leadership operating off a mix of participating country vessels. These patrols will act on intelligence concerning people-smuggling routes to stop trafficking in progress. Although brought together for one specific task—CTIP at sea—this CCI reinforces the values of free and open individuals, countries and commerce, while demonstrating U.S. commitment to a new regional security scheme and reinforcing the importance of regional states as participants and beneficiaries of cooperative security.

Maritime patrols are attractive because they visually communicate the strength of international partnership while emphasizing the strategic themes of focus on the maritime environment and interoperability. Other maritime CCIs could reinforce international treaties or protect international waterways to strengthen the rules-based international system. Maritime CCIs will also enable partners to build the skills, relationships, and procedures that ensure interoperability in a crisis. Moreover, the requirement to reduce costs and use taxpayer dollars efficiently encourages smaller operations that leverage combined resources of partner countries. However, concrete FOIP initiatives must quickly move beyond a maritime patrol for every issue. States must form CCIs around all manner of interests and cooperatively develop methods for protecting them.


Leveraging the Trader Principle

Protecting individual rights speaks directly to the theme of private sector-led development, including the right of individuals to trade their property in a free and open international system. Businesses are often hamstrung by tariff and non-tariff barriers at home and abroad that limit access to markets traders would otherwise be turning into destinations for investments and sources of income. In other words, states are standing in the way of wealth creation and prosperity for the individuals involved in any trade that happens to take place in their jurisdiction.

Trade liberalization under FOIP should not be done not by hundreds of delegates from dozens of states attempting to hammer out comprehensive pacts. After all, state-to-state trade deals are still state-managed trade. Liberalizing trade through government pacts is better than not liberalizing trade at all, however, trade pacts remain state-interference in free economic exchange, with bureaucrats picking economic winners and losers.

Economic liberty CCIs could be built by selecting a particular good or service and declaring the United States will eliminate all tariffs on it for any economy that will do the same—immediately. Once a single partner agrees, that initiative becomes a CCI and any state that joins demonstrates a commitment to pursue their shared interest in economic freedom and the open flow of that good or service. The next day, another tariff or trade barrier is be eliminated and another CCI formed. As communities grow, the power of individual economic actors will begin linking countries faster than any state-directed planning initiative could, and with greater benefits for all partners involved.

This approach will fundamentally change the nature of U.S. engagement in the region. Instead of preaching the benefits of free economies, the United States will demonstrate it by establishing relationships of mutual benefit. Those who find common interests for collaboration enjoy the benefits that serve as advertisements for the value of an Indo-Pacific region that is free and open.

An Interest-Based Indo-Pacific

As President Trump stated at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit last year, he expects all leaders to put the interests of their own countries first. Not only is it the proper function of a state to protect its own interests, it the necessary precondition for successful cooperation. Only by identifying where interests intersect can parties trade or cooperate to mutual benefit. The FOIP promotes these ideas by advocating that states and individuals should rightfully be free from coercion and free to pursue their interests. Similarly, it advances openness so the linkages required for effective trade and cooperation are unimpeded. However, current descriptions of the FOIP lack tools for implementing this vision of an interest-based Indo-Pacific. CCIs provide those tools—the strategic means—to enable the FOIP to tie the region together through cooperation.